Commentary Magazine


Those Courageous Liberals

The question at the heart of the Chuck Hagel controversy was always whether President Obama actually wanted Hagel as his secretary of defense, or whether it was all a gimmick to trick the press into further proclaiming the absurd-beyond-belief characterization of Obama’s cabinet as a “team of rivals.” You would think it would raise some eyebrows that this supposed ream of rivals all agree with each other. But Obama figured the press could be fooled again by appointing a registered Republican to run the Pentagon.

A gimmick, however, is generally not worth fighting for. But to understand why Obama thought the press could be fooled so easily into this nonsense, take a look at yesterday’s National Journal article, which broke the news that the White House is considering dropping Hagel. It’s a well-reported piece that got a scoop where everyone else merely had inklings. But notice the way this straight news story characterizes Hagel’s stand on the Iraq War:

While much of the criticism centers on questions of whether Hagel has been a strong enough supporter of Israel and tough enough on Iran–as well as past comments he made about gay people–he is also paying, in part, for his bluntness and bravery in advocating unpopular positions during his 12 years in the Senate. Hagel’s gutsy and prescient stand against his own party and President George W. Bush in the run-up to the Iraq invasion—and his criticism of the war’s management afterwards—all but cost him his political career, turning him from a possible GOP presidential contender into a pariah within his party.

As John Tabin noted last night, something is missing from the description of Hagel’s “prescient” stand against the Iraq War. And that something would be Hagel’s vote in favor of the Iraq War. What’s more, turning on the war effort when trouble hit was far from constituting “bravery,” as National Journal would have it. It was the popular thing to do.

Beyond the fact that reporters should not be bestowing medals upon politicians in straight news articles such as this, and in addition to the need to actually get the history and the facts right, there is the pattern of the press deciding that whenever a politician takes a stand on an issue that they agree with, it’s brave and courageous.

Hagel didn’t vote against the Iraq War, so his bravery consists of badmouthing Republicans and conservatives. In our current media climate, that is possibly among the least-brave acts one can take. But yesterday’s news also centered on the ongoing controversy over gun control in the wake of the Newtown tragedy–and it followed the same pattern and took the same tone it has since the fatal shooting took place. In a column about gun control, the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof had earlier asked: “Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?” What kind of courage, specifically, do we need? Kristof answers: “the gumption to stand up to National Rifle Association extremists.”

Of course. Just as in the case of Hagel’s nomination, we hear of powerful lobbies controlling members of Congress. But is it really courageous to attack the NRA? Bashing the NRA has been a daily ritual since the tragedy in Newtown, and both Republican lawmakers and Democratic legislators have said they’re open to adjusting their positions on gun control in favor of stricter rules and in defiance of the NRA.

But of course to the left, listening to interest groups can also be courageous and wise—it just depends on the interest groups. California Governor Jerry Brown is presiding over a fiscal basket case well on its way to becoming a failed state. But the L.A. Times, in discussing how to grade Brown’s year, can’t decide “whether to give him a B-plus, an A-minus or a full A.” What did Brown do to earn such accolades? He raised taxes on the state’s high earners. Specifically, “He merged his tax proposal with a more liberal version sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers.”

So allowing public sector union leaders to write legislation aimed at protecting their benefits by getting to choose who pays for them gets Brown on the dean’s list. It doesn’t seem to matter that the tax increase is already seen as a laughable bit of delusional public policy and that the state’s finances keep getting worse even as Brown and the unions celebrate their victory. When the tax initiative seemed headed for defeat, its supporters in the business community stepped forward to rally support. In another supposed straight news article, the San Francisco Chronicle called supporters of the tax hike “The few and the brave.” In case you didn’t get the point, one of the major liberal groups supporting the measure calls itself the Courage Campaign. After the tax passed, Brown praised the state’s “courageous decision.”

The liberal press knows bravery when it sees it. It’s just a coincidence that by their own criteria, America’s newspaper reporters join the Hagels and Browns up on that pedestal.

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